Review of Memory’s Legion
Robert J. Creedon
Corey, James S.A. Memory’s Legion Orbit, 2022.
Memory’s Legion is a compilation of the novellas and short fiction of the Expanse universe of James S.A. Corey. The Expanse consists of a series of books and short stories, a role-playing game, and a television program. Small parts of Memory’s Legion make up a collection of shorter fiction that was produced for other media. Each is available through other means, but together they are placed in a chronological order related to the main series of books. For someone who only knows the TV series and RPG game, Memory’s Legion expands upon the worlds, characters, and periods of the series. This collection isan amazing introduction to the many elements of the Expanse universe and series. I accessed this text through Audible, which additionally provides authors’ notes (spoken by the authors) and allows the listener to hear the correct pronunciation of names and places. This review will try not to reveal any spoilers but only hint at their existence.
“Drive” is the first short story. It covers the technological advancement that makes space travel more profitable and accessible in this universe. The Expanse is set 200 years into the future. This story, set 150 years before the main plotline of the series, follows Solomon Epstein as he invents the Epstein Drive to allow faster space travel. The drive enables humankind to venture throughout the solar system, including the Outer Belt and the moons of outer planets. It is a wonderful blend of hard soft science as the authors “show” rather than tell in this story of the first flight. Although theory, it gives a wonderfully detailed explanation of the related theoretical physics. Solomon Epstein reflects upon his past as we learn what this new technology does to him, the pilot. It is a very skillful tribute to this fictional inventor that sets off the entire “expanse” or colonization of the solar system.
The next three stories are all interconnected as they cover the main zones and characters of the series. “The Butcher of Anderson Station” introduces Colonel Fred Johnson and the Belters with the theme of political strife between governments, corporations, and the Belters. We see how Johnson evolves and observe the living conditions of the people of the Belt and Outer Planets. “The Churn” introduces the background of a major character from Earth with a surprise twist. The hidden twist helps the reader to focus on a wonderful story of the lives of the common people of Earth, demonstrating how the lives of people on Earth are shaped by their high population numbers. We see things like “Basic” Universal Income, free mass transit, and underground economies of the average citizen without looking at only the elites. Once the twist is revealed, it makes a lot more sense. From the TV series, the actor is subdued and only hints at what the character is experiencing, which can be felt from his performance. After reading this, you will have a greater appreciation for elements of his performance and backstory. Finally, “Gods of Risk” continues the story of Bobbie Draper and introduces us to common life on Mars. Mars is colonized and seems to be very much like a modern-day Earth in lifestyle and opportunity. Each of these stories establishes the political environment of their cultures through a personal story that draws in the reader. Each gives its flavor to a crime story of sorts but that just is the medium for these great character stories. Much of the jargon and flavor of each world is conveyed so this makes a great introduction to the cultures for both reading the series and playing the RPG version.
“The Vital Abyss” covers a discovery and technological development that was not explored well in the series. The story presents a very interesting argument in ethics and philosophy wrapped into a weird story of an unusual situation. I now see that there was really no place for this in the main series, but it is a very deep story that is a pleasure to experience. Strangely, this story also introduces the reader to a theme or element of the Expanse universe that might be missed. A major character has a diverse education that bridges ideas and concepts from many sciences within the story. This mirrors the biological education of one of the authors that adds layers to many of the stories. We also see the higher education skill of secondary fields like philosophy from the author notes or interview at the end of the Audible reading. This does support that any beginning writer should read or listen to this collection with interviews as a lesson on the importance of diverse personal skills and techniques in world building.
“Strange Dogs” reads simply as a horror story but has many layers. We have advanced forward into time to the colonizing of the planet, Laconia, within the Expanse universe. We meet a young girl named Cara who is growing up on the world as part of what was supposed to be just a five-year mission. She is being raised with rules from Earth on a world where most of those rules do not apply. She is a young, responsible girl trying to do the right thing, but all the rules have changed. The authors say that this is a story of immigrants. The first generation tries to live by their rules from home, but Cara develops through her learning of the rules of the planet. Within this horror story, we see that the planet has different technologies and abilities. I do not see it as horror even though it ends very horror like. It has more of a colonization / immigrant edge to it as two cultures experience conflict. As a Canadian who works in a First Nation community, I recognize a familiar misunderstanding between the Laconians and humans as they try to help. It reminds me of the Westerns where a young child becomes part of tribe or the Star Trek NG episode “Suddenly Human” where the child is reintroduced to humans after being raised by an alien culture. This is a much more interesting way of dealing with the bridging of two different cultures by a person. The total distrust of the events due to human-centered beliefs causes the horror but what would have happened if the characters connected as Cara does, accepting the gifts and knowledge of the “Strange Dogs”? What are we learning from the Indigenous peoples now that we are actually listening and trying to understand? “Strange Dogs” therefore prompts the reader to carefully consider these pivotal topics.
“Auberon” is a story filled with political intrigue. This is due largely to its plot, which focuses upon the aftermath of the Laconian Empire’s takeover of the universe and its subsequent placing of governors on its planets. Strangely, it opens with a wonderful speech about how change is constant and that there is therefore a dire need to learn new rules quickly. There are definite connections to “The Churn” and the recurrence of the social political emphasis in the Expanse universe. We see how a governor deals with a very corrupt planet with limited trusted forces and how the criminal underworld adapts and survives. We learn about the problems of winning a war. What really gets me is how this story is so perfect as a teaser for the series without giving anything away. There is even a reference to “Strange Dogs” linking them. The author’s notes additionally enrich this section. For these reasons, it is a short story that prompts the reader to explore the rest of the series.
“Sins of the Father” tells the tale of one of the characters and how this character ends up wrapped in a very strange fate. A major event happens in the universe, so we see the effects on a group of colonists. Once you read this story, you will also see a strange karma in the fate of the main character, but what struck me was how Earth is being destroyed and we look at the stars and science for solution. Between “Strange Dogs” and this story, we are told it is not a guarantee. There is a secondary lesson in the stories of the Expanse about life on this planet and possible outcomes. This might not be an intentional theme, but I picked up on the possibilities. Not everything turns out, especially for 400 with no way home and no chance of rescue.
The short stories and novellas in this collection are a wonderful gateway into the Expanse universe, whether it is for a reader of the books, a watcher of the TV series, or a gamer interested in the RPG. This also carries great weight for the aspiring writer to see the craftsmanship and diversity of knowledge necessary for creating a realistic universe. We see biology, politics, and philosophy as major viewpoints for the writing. The Expanse universe was also used for a campaign for a roleplaying game by the author. One thing many tabletop or Role Playing Games do is incorporate elements of different fictional worlds. Many read the works of the authors to get the flavor of the universe in which they are playing. The authors of the Expanse do well in explaining the science and technology involved in these stories and exploring the culture of both the leaders and the common folks, especially those of the underworlds. There is even new terminology like “goldilocks planets” and “living on basic” to explain concepts in this view of the universe.
This collection allows the players to jump off many places for their own games and campaigns through this long story arc. This is a wonderful piece of writing as both an introduction and teaser to the Expanse books or TV series. The Audible package also includes the author’s notes in an interview format after each story, which, by providing the authors’ comments directly, greatly enriches the text. It is a nice package to give clarity plus it provides great insight into the writers and the process. Those author’s notes are very informative to both readers and future writers. For those watching the TV series, these stories are linked in as titles and more. Reading or listening to the stories provides a depth and scope unavailable to consumers solely of the television series. The quality of the reader in the Audible recording is great as there are those voice changes that help the listener understand who is speaking. Additionally, it is read at a great pace and is clearly spoken. Overall, this book and its format are top quality and worth your time whether you be an avid fan or someone looking for a mind-opening piece of science fiction. It provides escapism, provokes important ideas, and introduces strong characters, culminating in a great reading or listening experience.
Robert Creedon is an intermediate and high school teacher in the Canadian First Nation community. With backgrounds in emergency services, sociology, and teaching, he has cultivated an interest in science fiction through tabletop role playing games, film, media, and books for over 40 years. This is his first review of fiction, but he has reviewed books on popular culture and philosophy before. Robert has also participated in over 50 productions of theater and media.